Kiki's Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyubin)

A film by Hayao Miyazaki (1989)


Kiki's Delivery Service was the highest grossing film in Japan in 1989. Not even Disney's Beauty and the Beast two years later could make that claim. This is a charming and joyful movie about a 13 year old witch who leaves home with her cat (Jiji) to make it on her own in a new town for a year. (This is a requirment to become a full witch.) She ends up living in a coastal town where she works in a bakery and uses her flying ability to set up a delivery service. Basically, this is a gentle coming of age story as Kiki develops her confidence and learns how to deal with her new situations.

For a while there was a debate on rec.arts.anime about the location of Colico, the town Kiki moved to. Scandinavia, Germany, and Italy were given among to possibilities. In "Protoculture Addicts" 19 (Sep/Oct 1992) Sylvain Rheault interviewed Miyazaki and asked him about this:

Miyazaki-san explained that he gathers things he likes and puts them together in his movies. For example, the city of Colico in MAJO NO TAKKYUBIN (Kiki's Delivery Service) is a rag tag combination of Scandinavian and Italian cities as well as parts of San Francisco. What matters is the emotion.

It was also reported in rec.arts.anime that Miyazaki has said that Kiki takes place in an alternate Europe in the 50s where World War II never occurred. This would explain the ecletic mix of 30s, 40s, and 50s styles. (And if you count Tombo's human powered airplane, then you can include the 80s.)

Just like Totoro and Laputa, Kiki was dubbed into English by Carl Macek and shown on JAL trans-Pacific flights. It has also been shown at a few anime cons and reports from those indicate that people thought it was even a better dub than Totoro. After the success of the video release in 1994 of Totoro, it was hoped that the Kiki dub would be released soon afterwards. However it never happened. The Macek dubbed version eventually became available, but only as the alternative audio track on the Kiki laserdisc in the Ghibli Boxed set that was released in fall 1996.

In the meantime Disney bought the rights to release English versions of all the Miyazaki films, and Kiki was chosen to be the first one released. It came out in the US in September 1998 with a moderately large ad campaign and an excellent dubbing job. Disney kept to their promise to use "A-list" talent for the voices. Kirsten Dunst (Little Women, Interview with the Vampire) played Kiki with such naturalness that I swear I kept forgetting that this was originally in Japanese. Phil Hartman (Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Toy Soldiers) surprised all the Miyazaki fans by adding a sarcastic edge to Jiji's character, but was so good at it that he actually expanded the character. Matthew Lawrence (Boy Meets World) did a good job as Tombo and Janeane Garofalo (The Truth About Cats & Dogs" was dead perfect as Ursula. Disney also surprised all the anime fans by offering a wide screen subtitled version of the film on video for the same price ($19.99) as the dub.

Kiki also scored another first: the first time a video release was reviewed as a regular feature film on Siskel and Ebert instead of in the "video pick of the week section". Roger Ebert gushed about how much he loved Miyazaki's work, and Gene Siskel, unlike the time he panned Totoro also liked it was amazed that this gentle film about a young girl actually held the attention of his three year old son (who normally only like monster truck rallies on tv). They gave it "two thumbs up".

Marc Hairston, November 1998


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